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Managing Your Team: How the Coronavirus is Changing How We Work

There's a lot of moving parts when it comes to managing a team. Especially now, with the rapid switch to remote working and the added stress of the global pandemic. A year into Covid-19, it's time to examine how leaders can make the remote workplace healthy and productive.

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The past few months have involved a lot of big changes, and it looks like there’ll be more to come. The coronavirus crisis has dramatically affected how people work, and it’s vital you update your management strategies to match.

Let’s take a look at some values that should always be part of any leader’s teamwork and collaboration definition, especially as we move towards more virtual spaces.

Be Patient

This might seem like a minor thing – or even something you do already – but it’s one of the most important changes you can make. The current situation is affecting everyone in different ways, and this will inevitably impact how people work. Be understanding of the fact your employees are likely very stressed and dealing with new challenges themselves.

If you’ve just started using new video conferencing solutions, make sure you give time for your staff to become familiar with them. Some people might need more practice than others. Fostering a culture of patience in video calls can help reduce the stress caused by not understanding new technology.

If your team is working from home, they’ll need time to adjust – especially if they have children, housemates, or other potential distractions! Be prepared for things to take a bit longer, and be flexible where you can. Aside from seeing how much leeway your team can have with time, you may also want to place systems that allow them to share files, exchange information, and other micro-tasks easier and faster.

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New Technologies

New problems call for new solutions. It’s currently a good time to switch to using VoIP at home, invest in a new project management  software, or make better use of a cloud PBX system. Remote work may bring new challenges, but it also brings new opportunities. After all, once you’ve invested in these new technologies, you can keep using them even after the crisis!

Ensuring the entire company is using the same technology makes everything easier. Using VoIP means that all your employees can be on the same telephone system, instead of having to make use of personal phones, while benefiting from collaboration-accelerating features like screen sharing. Having a set task management platform means that everyone can see what’s happening, and cuts down the number of times you might need to answer the same questions. Making better use of cloud computing, meanwhile, lets you make important documents easily and readily accessible, instead of having to wait on email replies and attachments.

More Training

To make the best use of new technologies, you need to invest in training. You could do this through a formal system of class-like sessions and homework. This would be particularly effective for learning something complex, like a business phone system. Alternatively, you could focus on something more casual, such as one-to-one meetings. These are better for teaching programs not every staff member will need to learn.

However you choose to do it, training is important for making sure all your employees are on the same page. This is vital if you haven’t previously had a work from home policy, or if some of your staff are not usually as dependent on technology. Training people on new software is a big investment upfront, but it will help things go more smoothly in the long run.

However, it’s not just new software that you should train for. Ongoing training and development is something a lot of new workers look for in a company. It’s known to increase employee satisfaction. Building new remote courses can help keep morale up during the crisis – and you can keep using them afterwards too! 

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Be Flexible

Another priority for many workers is flexibility. It’s something that’s more important for many workers now than ever before. Some of your employees are sure to have added challenges such as childcare or looking after elderly relatives. Allowing more flexible working hours is an excellent way to help them out. 

Let’s say you have an employee named Amanda, who has a young child. Her husband, Bill, is an essential worker and isn’t at home between 6am and 2pm. Usually, the child would be in school, and Bill would pick them up after work. That’s while Amanda works her 9-5 shift in your office. 

In the current situation, Bill still has to go to work, but the child is not at school. This leaves Amanda trying to manage both work and a five year old until he gets home! Being flexible might allow Amanda to start later, work shorter hours, or take more breaks throughout the day. It’s much better to have a fully engaged employee working unusual hours than it is to have a permanently distracted one!

Some routine is important, and there will be things that need tighter scheduling – meetings or deadlines, for instance. There’s often little reason, though, to force a 9-5 working day as long as the work gets done. This can be trickier with roles that require communication with customers, but there are techniques that can help. You could install a chatbot, work on your FAQ page, or hire more people to cover different hours. Most customers will be very understanding of the current situation, and will understand if their requests take a bit longer than normal.

Work on Communication

It’s always important within an organization that everyone can communicate clearly. This is often harder online than in person. Try to assume the best about any communication you receive via the written word. It can be tricky to interpret tone through email. Equally, when sending emails, spend time ensuring what you say is clear and concise.

Get to know your employees preferred communication styles. Some people prefer audio, using a text messaging app, others video, and some might be happy just with email. While it’s impossible to avoid communication styles you don’t like, reducing it can help limit misinterpretation and conflict. 

Other things you can do to help improve communication:

  • Be transparent. Create an environment of trust and understanding between management and other staff.
  • Encourage questions. Make sure people know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Allow chit-chat. This will encourage team bonding and a healthy work culture.
  • Ask for feedback. Check in with your team and try to improve as you go!
  • Don’t make everything a video meeting. Whilst staying connected is important, many things can be done through email.
  • Stay secure. Your communication channels should be safe for sharing information and files that may be sensitive to your organization.

Improving communication in a remote team is an ongoing process, and it’s important to make sure your management strategy includes this. With the current crisis, many people are stressed and potentially more irritable or emotional than normal. Taking proactive measures to reduce possible conflicts and being clear in your communications is vital. Being generous when tensions do flare up is equally as important.

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Automation

Many businesses have already been trying to automate workflows, and the current situation makes this a bigger priority for many. Whilst not everything can be automated – customer service still needs a person involved at some step, if not throughout the entire process – many things can be. Ideally, automation should not be removing jobs, just reducing pressure on existing ones the way productivity tools tend to do. That allows the members of your team to be more productive. 

Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation are becoming more popular in the world of business communications. Those instances of tech can help reduce the number of direct calls or chat queries your customer service team may have to deal with. They allow chatbots to respond to common problems and only escalate the more complex ones. 

Providing For Remote Work

Remote working requires certain elements that not all of your employees have equal access to. Good internet connections, good equipment, and a reasonable amount of space are all expectations within an office. Whilst you can’t provide space or an office set up, you can help in other ways.

Many companies are now providing a stipend to equip a home office, or paying back reasonable expenses incurred. Providing a stipend is the better solution here, as not everyone will have the money available to buy the technology required. However, if you don’t have the budget for this, you can still provide in other ways. Some companies are allowing their staff to take equipment home from the office, and there are a wide range of free mobile apps for small businesses that address management and collaboration needs. This could even include laptops, monitors, headsets and other big ticket items they need for their job. Others are getting their IT teams to post out these items to staff.

Whatever the solution, providing for staff working remotely is certain to deliver benefits in the long term. Both for your team and for you as the manager too. With remote working established you can assign the best person for any role, not just the person with the right equipment. You can also hold people’s work to a certain standard, if you know what equipment and software they have. That’s instead of trying to work out what’s achievable with the tech they currently have.

Plan Ahead

Many people are treating the current situation as a temporary crisis, and not investing time or energy into these necessary changes. We don’t know, however, how long the pandemic and related lockdowns are going to go on for. Other impacts of the crisis, too, are almost certain to be around for years. You need to start planning for the ‘new normal’ to be a long term situation, and act accordingly. 

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Besides, many of the things changing in the workplace now are likely to be positive changes even after the coronavirus crisis is resolved. Embracing them early and perfecting your techniques will put you ahead of the curve, instead of playing catch-up.

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